AWR Blog

by Sherry Devlin, the Missoulian

Republican says her party is off base on environment

Martha Marks is a Republican and an environmentalist, and she doesn’t understand why the Grand Old Party isn’t greener.

Or why people keep asking her when she’s going to become a Democrat.

“Never,” comes the answer. “I am not going to be a Democrat. I am an elected Republican, a fiscal conservative and an avowed environmentalist. I always have been and always will be.”

To Marks’ way of thinking, all conservatives ought to be conservationists.

“How can good Republicans look taxpayers in the eye and justify the incredible subsidies our government gives to the big corporations that log our national forests and mine our public land?” asked Marks, president of Republicans for Environmental Protection and the keynote speaker Friday at Missoula’s Alliance for the Wild Rockies Rendezvous.

“A true fiscal conservative would get the corporate welfare hand out of taxpayers’ pockets,” she said. “A true conservative wouldn’t let the timber industry take our trees for a fraction of their value. And they certainly wouldn’t give away public land for $2.50 an acre to the big mining companies.”

And, at least in Lake County, Ill., voters agree.

Marks was elected a Lake County commissioner in 1992, and re-elected twice since, on a pro-environment platform.

In every Republican primary, she got 70 percent or better of the vote.

During her tenure, she said, the county board went from pro-development to pro-conservation. “And we are all Republicans,” she said.

There is no conflict between environmental protection and a strong economy, Marks said. “The places in this country with the strongest economies have the strongest environmental protection. There is no correlation between trashing the environment and a booming economy. If that were the case, we’d all be living in Bangladesh.”

“To me,” she said, “the real Republicans — the real conservatives — are the Republicans who stand up for environmental protection.”

Marks and two other women founded Republicans for Environmental Protection in 1995, when the Republican Party assumed the majority in Congress and set out to dismantle most of the nation’s environmental laws.

“I got worried early,” she said.

Up until then, Marks believed her party to be a champion of the environment. Hadn’t Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican, led the campaign to set aside Yellowstone National Park? Hadn’t Richard Nixon sign all the landmark environmental protections of the 1970s?

What happened?

“Money,” Marks said. “Campaigns became more and more expensive, and extractive industries were there with the money. A virulent strain of anti-environmentalism emerged in the Republican Party.”

Voters were still as green as ever, she said. “Every poll said so and continues to say so.”

But the Republicans elected to public office in the West and South were decidedly anti-environmental, in Marks’ book.

“Proudly anti-environmental,” she said.

By the time she attended a conference on the Endangered Species Act in mid-1995, Marks was being labeled a “token Republican” among a crowd of environmentalists. Others in the group admitted to their GOP membership only in whispered conversations.

Marks responded by founding Republicans for Environmental Protection. Four years later, her group has 2,000 members in 47 states. There is no chapter in Montana, although there are members.

At this weekend’s meeting of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Marks doesn’t expect to find many other Republicans or recruits to her organization. Instead, she said, she is in Missoula to give her support to the alliance’s effort to get a regional wilderness bill through Congress.

The Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act would designate as wilderness all of the Forest Service’s remaining roadless land in the region, and would create two new national preserves totaling 2 million acres and 1,800 miles of new wild and scenic rivers.

A new corps of backcountry workers would remove old logging roads and restore native vegetation.

“We believe in it,” Marks said. “Most of the country doesn’t have a chance to preserve these big tracts of wilderness. Everything has been developed.”

NREPA is a bill “that Republicans ought to be able to support. It does not take any land. It does not harm local economies. And it protects the resources that people come to Western states to see: the bears and the bighorns. Why wouldn’t Republican officials support a bill like that? It seems to fit with everything we believe in.”

Neither of Montana’s Republican members of Congress support the bill.

But no, Marks said, she is not tempted to switch parties. Instead, her group hopes to “green up” the GOP.

Already, she’s sent detailed questionnaires to the Republicans vying for their party’s presidential nomination.

And she hopes to get an audience with the party’s platform committee at next summer’s convention.

She won’t vote for anti-environment Republicans, she said. But she’s also not likely to vote for liberal Democrats.

“I don’t agree with the Democratic Party on everything either,” she said. “I would like to see my party do more, and that’s where I’m going to put my energy.”

“I’m staying a Republican,” Marks said, “and an environmentalist.”

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